February 6, 2009 in City

Measures aim to halt holdups

Doors locked, extra patrols instituted to quell recent rash of robberies
Staff writer
Colin Mulvany photo

Local Check into Cash stores like this one at 920 N. Division St. have started locking their doors and requiring customers to show ID before entering.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

The suspects

The suspected serial robber is described as a white male in his late teens to early 20s, 5-foot-5 to 5-foot-8 with a thin build and black handgun. He wears a black ski mask, light or acid-wash jeans, and a black hooded jacket. Police believe he’s responsible for robbing four payday loan centers in January, two attempted robberies this week and a robbery at Shopko on Tuesday.

Also wanted is Richard T. Ludvik, 23, who’s accused of threatening a pharmacist with a knife at the Walgreens at 29th Avenue and Grand Boulevard on Jan. 21. Police think he may be responsible for another robbery at the Walgreens at 15510 E. Sprague Ave. in Spokane Valley on Jan. 11, according to court papers.

 Anyone with information on the serial robber or Ludvik’s whereabouts is asked to call (509) 242-TIPS.

String of OxyContin robberies

Jan. 11, Walgreens, 15510 E. Sprague Ave. Arrests: none.

Jan. 14, Walgreeens, 2702 N. Argonne Road. Suspect arrested: Michael A. Miller, 24.

Jan. 20, Walgreens, 12312 E. Sprague Ave. Suspects arrested: David J. Harrington, 20; Joshua M. Warren, 18; and a 15-year-old boy.

Jan. 21, Walgreens, 2830 Grand Blvd. Suspect arrested: Joshua G. Dixon, 26. Richard T. Ludvik, 23, is still at large.

Feb. 3, Shopko, 9520 N. Division St. Arrests: none. Serial payday loan center robber suspected.

A serial robber suspected of a major OxyContin heist this week in Spokane has prompted extra patrols at pharmacies and additional security measures at payday loan stores.

Check into Cash stores in Spokane now stay locked during business hours and require customers to show identification before they can enter.

Spokane County sheriff’s deputies are regularly monitoring pharmacies as they do banks and credit unions.

The measures come as investigators hunt for a young man who dons a black ski mask and wields a handgun during the crimes. Police believe he robbed four payday loan centers last month and, on Tuesday, a Shopko pharmacy where he took $5,000 worth of the powerful prescription drug OxyContin.

“We know we’re probably not going to walk into a robbery in progress,” said Sgt. Dave Reagan, a spokesman for the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office. “But knowing that we’re going to be paying more attention to the businesses, hopefully that will at least slow down these robberies until we get this guy in custody.”

Check into Cash district manager Jeremy Scruggs did not return phone calls seeking comment. But stores around Spokane kept their doors locked Thursday and posted signs warning customers they’d likely need to show identification to get inside. That may have thwarted another robbery attempt Thursday. Employees at the store at 555 E. Francis Ave. saw a man in a black ski mask run away after realizing the door was locked just before 6 p.m.

It’s the second time this week the robber approached a locked door. Police suspect that after finding the store at 920 N. Division St. closed about 6 p.m. Tuesday, the robber drove to the Shopko at 9520 N. Division St. About 6:40 p.m., employees at Shopko reported a robbery at gunpoint by a man in a black ski mask. The man stole seven bottles of the powerful painkiller, valued at nearly $5,000, police said.

Tuesday’s pharmacy robbery was the fifth of the year. Police arrested five people – including a 15-year-old boy – in connection with the four pharmacy robberies in January. A suspect in a robbery at knife-point Jan. 21 at the South Hill Walgreens, Richard T. Ludvik, 23, remains at large.

The loan center robber first struck Jan. 14 at Check and Go at 6411 N. Division St. On Jan. 20, a masked gunman matching that same description hit the Francis Avenue Check into Cash, then struck the same store again Jan. 29, hours after a similar robbery at the Division Street Check into Cash.

“There’s some assumption that he’s a drug user and that he was stealing money to buy the Oxys,” said police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer DeRuwe.

OxyContin, a trade name for oxycodone, is an opium-based narcotic that produces a heroin-like high when the time-release capsules are crushed, then injected, snorted or smoked.

A 40 mg OxyContin pill costs about $5.40 at Bi-Mart but can fetch $30 to $50 on the black market.

Walgreens spokeswoman Tiffani Washington said the store has taken extra security precautions but declined to elaborate.

The Medicine Man pharmacy chain in Liberty Lake and North Idaho no longer stocks OxyContin and asks customers to give notice for a prescription. That’s not likely to happen at Walgreens, Washington said.

“OxyContin is for people who are in a lot of pain,” she said. “To have some people wait to receive the medications, in many cases, is not appropriate.”

Pharmacy patrols have been effective in the past.

Spokane police nabbed suspected serial robber Edward A. Saner, 23, in October after a two-day stakeout of Rite Aid pharmacies.

The 10 or so robberies since his arrest have included a Bi-Mart, a Shopko and at least four Walgreens.

Sheriff’s patrols aren’t limited to pharmacies outside the city. Undercover investigators could be watching any store, Reagan said.

“Now is not a good time to be hanging out near a pharmacy,” he said.

Meghann M. Cuniff can be reached at (509) 459-5534 or at meghannc@spokesman.com.

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